So your country has blocked Twitter

• ~400 words • 2 minute read

Whenever I see a place I visited last year pop-up in the news it grabs my attention. It's strange to see photos of places you walked around or look them up on a map and  be able to orient current events in relation to where you were. The terrible events in Nairobi last summer, the state of emergency declarations in Bangkok and the fact that the last contact with the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 happened  very close to Penang ((I guess one of the pilots was from Penang as well.)) are some of the more serious ones that come to mind.

Today is was Twitter being blocked in Turkey. I spent a good chunk of time in Istanbul last year and follow a number of the people I met in real life on Twitter. As most of them are computer-nerdy people not unlike myself, they found a few ways to get around the block. It looks like it can be as simple as using OpenDNS or Google's Public DNS, which kind of surprised me.

Interestingly, this is a problem I ran into trying to continue my work as a web developer while I traveled. Not as maliciously or deliberately as what they're doing in Turkey, but there were issues trying to SSH into servers from time to time. I ran into one situation where the country I was logging in from was blocked by the web host my client was using. Another time I was updating DNS settings for a domain and, although the changes were quit immediate in the U.S., I wasn't able to see the change for many hours. Less problematically, ESPN would ask me if I wanted to go to their Spanish-speaking site whenever I accessed the site from South America.

The solution for traveling web developers? Use an SSH proxy tunnel. If you're using a Mac I recommend a combination of an EC2 instance (or any server your can SSH into) and a lovely little application called Sidestep. You setup your proxy server and can turn it off and on with a click from the menu bar. It solved my previously mentioned SSH issue with that one client and allowed me to see the DNS updates even though they had propagated to the country I was in at the time.

I was using it as an extra layer of security when I was on unprotected wifi networks, but it turns out it's an effective tool for side-stepping country-blocked sites and services, provided the server you're using as a proxy is located in a country that is not also blocked.